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Advocates urge state to stop fight over education-funding ruling

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PHOENIX – As a parent and now a school board candidate, Jen Darland said she’s watched with worry as the Tucson Unified School District struggles to fill teaching positions and wondered whether a lack of adequate funding will cost her children and their peers.

A year after the Arizona Supreme Court ruled the state failed to make annual inflation adjustments to school funding as called for by a voter-approved law, Darland and others said Monday it’s time for Arizona’s leader to pay schools what they are owed rather than continue fighting in court.

“I have stepped up and owned my responsibilities, and teachers have stepped up and owned their responsibilities despite no pay increase,” Darland said. “It’s time for state elected leaders to step up.”

At a news conference held at the Balsz Elementary School District, she joined representatives of school districts and education advocacy groups as well as lawyer for those who sued successfully over the funding.

The high court ruling stemmed from Proposition 301, which Arizona voters approved in 2000 to create an extra 0.6 percent sales tax earmarked for education. It found that Arizona failed after 2010 to abide by a requirement that officials adjust the base funding level for inflation.

A Maricopa County Superior Court judge later said the state has to provide schools $317 million in new funding in a first installment and a total of $1.6 billion over five years.

The state has appealed the judge’s decision, according to Don Peters, lead counsel for the plaintiffs. requesting Sept. 11 to hold off on adjusting the base level funding while the matter is pending.

Frank Davidson, superintendent of Casa Grande Elementary School District, said the district is having trouble attracting and retaining teachers. He said his district has teaching vacancies because teachers leave for positions in and out of Arizona.

“What’s a new teacher to do but choose to go where they’ll make the most money?” Davidson said.

Beth Maloney, a Dysart Unified School District Teacher named Arizona’s 2014 Teacher of the Year, said she and other educators are grappling with larger class sizes. Her classroom has gone from 25 to 30 students, making it more difficult for her to connect with each student.

“Class sizes is a big issue for me,” Maloney said. “My district tried to make it the last thing on the table, but we are down to the last thing on the table.”